A number of folks have asked me about learning CW and commented on problems they are having doing so. I try to answer their questions and explain my experiences with the mode, and refer them to “Getting Started . . . with CW” on the MARC website. Learning to copy and send Morse code is really an accomplishment and, while challenging, it is not beyond the capabilities of the great majority of us.
In thinking about questions that come up, several points stand out. Having “been there and done that,” I thought I might put down the more important ones to encourage folks who have an interest in becoming proficient with the code. Nothing in the list below is new, and it is covered in the website tutorial, but I thought it might be worthwhile repeating.
First, plan your practice sessions and stay with them. The approach that seems to be best for most of us is to work on copying for half-an-hour or so twice a day, spaced with several hours in between.
Second, do not memorize the dots and dashes. Instead, learn the sound of the character in connected dits and dahs. Download the freeware we recommended on the website and use it in your practice sessions.
Third, practice your sending at separate times from your copy periods using the same characters that you are working on in your copy session. Your sending will come, along with your copying. Sending speed, by the way, is secondary. What is most important is accurate spacing and characters.
Fourth, start at the simpler characters and work up, becoming thoroughly familiar with each letter, number, and punctuation mark before advancing. Do so in stages, again as we recommend in the website tutorial, and work on them methodically.
Fifth, repetition is key. Review in each session, particularly characters that you may be having difficulty with. Then periodically go back to the beginning and work through what you have already covered.
Sixth, expect to “plateau,” which is when you will stop advancing in speed for a time. We all encountered that, sometimes even for several days or more. Just keep at it and suddenly you will realize you are progressing, again.
Seventh, most of us aren’t going to learn CW overnight. Don’t expect too much! That is the problem with a lot of folks who say “they just can’t get it.” Unless you are really unusual, it’s going to take several months. The best way to deal with that is to not think about the end, but rather focus on one level at a time. Pretty soon you will realize that you are copying the code and ready for real-time CW contacts.
Eighth, get familiar with common abbreviations and Q-signals. They are in the Getting Started tutorial, as well.
Ninth, listen to CW on the air. The W1AW code practice sessions are helpful. Actual QSOs are, as well . . . in fact maybe more so, as you will be listening to real operators sending real code to each other. The advantage of that is obviously the practice you get from it, but also hearing how different operators send code (their “fist) and what they say to each other in a typical contact.
Tenth, when you feel that you are basically competent, get on the air! You will be nervous, like we all were, but not to worry. There are many, many, operators new at the code just like you, and will be glad to have you join them on the bands. Seasoned CW operators, too, welcome new brass-pounders and will adjust their sending to accommodate your skill level.
So, that’s it. CW is an art form and learning to copy and send it well is tremendously satisfying. Hopefully, these points will encourage you to take the plunge. Go through the tutorial methodically and if you have questions, don’t hesitate to get with one of the brass-pounders in the club. We will be most happy to offer our thoughts, suggestions, and encouragement. So, go forth, my friend, go forth and become a brass-pounder!!